This collection of 12 Bengali songs was composed in 1893. The Bāulas are a group of pseudo-Vaiṣṇavas who roam the countryside of Bengal singing songs, playing an ektar (a one-stringed instrument). The gaiety of the Bāulas and their down to earth village songs had a strong influence upon the educated classes of Bengal, and in particular with the famous Bengali poet Rabindranatha Tagore, who popularised them.
The beliefs of the Bāulas are a mix of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavism, Sufi Islam and impersonalism, thus they are actually opposed to the pure teachings of Śrī Caitanya Mahāprabhu. They opine that no scripture, priest, temple or mosque can help one find God. One has to create ones own path to discover the Divine. At the centre of the Bāula philosophy is the concept that the material human body is divine and sexual practices are of major importance to them. The Bāula finds a female partner (or partners) known as a bośtomi, and identifies himself with Kṛṣṇa and his female follower as Rādhā. Some of their sexual practices are kept hidden as they are considered to be extremely repulsive to ordinary people.
‘Bāula’ is a corruption of the Sanskrit word vātula, meaning ‘mad.’ We find the word used in the mystical verse composed by Advaita Ācārya in Caitanya-caritāmṛta, Antya-līlā, 19.20-21:
bāulake kahiha—loka haila bāula
bāulake kahiha—hāṭe nā bikāya cäula
bāulake kahiha—kāye nāhika āula
bāulake kahiha—ihā kahiyāche bāula
“Tell the Madman that all the people have now become mad like Him. Tell the Madman that rice is no longer available in the marketplace. Tell the Madman that those who are mad in ecstatic love no longer do business. Tell the Madman that another Madman has spoken these words.”
Because of this verse, many of the Bāulas consider Advaita Ācārya to be their founding father, thus Advaita is portrayed in old Bengali paintings as a Bāula – replete with topknot and beard.
In Bāula Saṅgīta, Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura uses the pseudonym ‘Cāṅda Bāula’ so that the instructions within his songs would be accepted by both ordinary village people and the educated classes of Bengal. Throughout his 12 songs, he launches scathing attacks upon the erroneous beliefs of the Bāulas, Karttā-bhājās and other pseudo-Vaiṣṇava sects found in Bengal. He encourages his readers to give up hypocrisy and licentiousness and to become true Bāulas – transcendental madmen who follow the true path of dharma.